Cor - it's a Korg! Nick Graham records his views
Elsewhere in in this month's IT I've been conducting a campaign towards greater use of micro-computers in music, and sounding off generally about the value for money they represent. After I had written it I came across the Korg SQD-1 MIDI Recorder, and was forced to the conclusion that the dedicated sequencer or MIDI recorder wasn't as outmoded as I'd imagined! Certainly in many applications a compact, self-contained machine like this one could be just what's needed, especially if you're the sort of person who doesn't get on with a typewriter keyboard! In addition to its comprehensive technical features, the Korg measures only 403(w) x 74(h) x 260(d) mm. (about the size of the Daily Mail — but much more intelligent!), and offers considerable advantages in portability and ruggedness over a computer package designed to do the same job.
Since any MIDI recorder is only as good as its data storage system, this is a good place to start in any test. I can think of two MIDI recorders, both made by major manufacturers, which couldn't realise their true potential because they could only dump data to tape, and it took ages. If you're using sequencers live this is an impossible situation to be in, because if you have to wait minutes for the next song to load, your audience may well get fed up and start throwing things! Alternatively, if you're working at home or in the studio, the facility to quickly store your work at each stage of its development is essential — a power failure, for example, could cause the loss of many hours' graft if it's not stored.
Happily, you'll never have these problems with the SQD-1, because the onboard quickdisc drive (self formatting — 2.8" discs — velly cheap!) is very quick, and can load up to five songs or a total of 30,000 MIDI events on to one disc in seconds. As long as you clearly label the discs so as not to get them mixed up in front of 3,000 people at your next Hammersmith Odeon gig, you should have no problems!
Having established that the SQD-1 provides fast, foolproof data storage, the next question is, how easy is it to programme? The user is given a choice of step-time or real-time programming, both of which can yield excellent results. In both modes information is recorder on to the 'main track' which, when suitably edited, becomes the track to which all subsequent tracks are synchronised. I found, therefore, that it was best to use the main track for a part (e.g. the bass line) which was continuous throughout the piece of music, giving a good basis for overdubbing. When the main track is complete, further recording of parts is done on the 'sub-track', which can be bounced on to the main track and merged with the information already there. Although the machine only has these two tracks, this procedure can be repeated over and over again until either the 16-note polyphonic capacity of the SQD-1 has been exceeded, or the memory filled. If each new sub-track is allocated its own MIDI channel number, then merged information can still play individual lines of music on separate synths, each receiving on a particular MIDI channel. One word of warning, though: before mixing on to the main track, the musical data recorded on a subtrack must be exactly what you want, as there is no facility to de-merge.
Recording in real-time on the SQD-1 is a doddle. In fact it's just like using a tape recorder, except that before pressing the record button you have to decide what signature, tempo and resolution you require. The first two are obvious, and the machine offers a complete range of time signatures, plus tempo settings of between 35-230 b.p.m. However, resolution is not so obvious, and requires careful thought. Whatever value you set, the machine will auto-correct your playing to this resolution as it records. Of course you can turn the auto-correct off, but this will prevent you correcting it later, because this facility is strictly a record function; it doesn't work on playback. Again, a good selection of possible resolutions is available — I found that, in general, correction to the nearest semiquaver (16th note) was the best, but that's a personal preference.
Step-time on the SQD-1 is also very quick and easy. After choosing a resolution (i.e., determining the number of 'steps' - one beat), pitch data is entered from the keyboard, while lengths of notes, ties and rests are entered from the multifunction keys on the MIDI recorder. Legato passages can also be entered, as can full chords, but simultaneous notes of differing lengths must be recorded on separate tracks and bounced together.
In step-mode, it's possible to change the resolution and the time signature of individual bars during recording, and this makes it ideal for complex pieces with multiple time-signatures. Incidentally, although the SQD-1 receives MIDI in omni-mode only (all channels at once), a MIDI channel must be specified during recording, and this is the one to which the current track will be permanently assigned.
Whether you record in step- or real-time, the editing facilities of the Korg are the same, and can be performed on recorded data in divisions of one bar. Basically, there are five edit mode functions: Copy, Insert, Delete, Blank and Erase; and these apply to data on both tracks. Copy enables the contents of one bar to be copies to the end of the song. Insert lets you put a few blank bar of rests in between old bars (data can then be rewritten to it), and Delete removes a bar. Logically enough, where these three functions are used on a particular bar on the main track, that bar is edited for all the MIDI channels present. However, Blank enables any bar on any MIDI channel to be replaced with rests, and similarly Erase, which erases all bars from a specified bar number to the end of the song, can also be applied to a particular MIDI channel. Finally, when using the Insert function it is possible to change the time signature of that inserted bar. With a bit of ingenuity most necessary repairs could be executed — the only feature I missed was the ability to copy a group of bars to any location.
When your recording is complete, there are a number of options open to you in the 'Play Only' mode. Transposition and repeat playback, as well as tempo change, are available, but by far the most useful function is the transmission/reception by the SQD-1 of MIDI song position pointers, ensuring that synchronised units (another sequencer or a drum machine) with the same MIDI facility start playback from the same location. This feature means that, with its large internal memory of 15,000 MIDI events, the Korg SQD-1 can be easily considered a professional standard machine.
In conclusion, I must say that, despite one or two idiosyncrasies, this MIDI recorder with its well-designed and friendly control panel would be an extremely good buy for anyone who needs a high quality, dedicated type machine. It certainly has the memory and storage facilities to cope with any situation, and at £619 RRP represents very good value for money. Check it out!
RRP £619 inc. VAT
More info on Korg from Rose-Morris & Co. Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Nick Graham
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